Scholars Emphasize Importance of Affirmative Action Programs

A group of university professors have released a statement through The Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, arguing that the benefits of affirmative action are supported by sound research, despite the politically divisive nature of the debate over its usage.

Their goal is to both justify the usage of such diversity policies and help universities craft policies that are legally sound.

The statement makes a number of points, supported with cited studies.  It comes in the wake of the Fisher v. University of Texas U.S. Supreme Court decision, which sent the affirmative action case back to lower courts. Although it was not a decisive statement, researchers said the court did recognize that the goal of diversity in higher education is a worthy one.

“The Court also emphasized that use of race, if challenged, requires a clear judicial finding that the campus has shown that it could not find a workable and feasible non-racial strategy that would produce the desired level of diversity at tolerable administrative expense,” the statement says.

The professors first lay out the case for the benefits of diversity in a higher education setting, including reductions in prejudice and greater civic engagement. Diversity also can cutback on stereotyping, tokenism and other discrimination on campus.

The study notes that the risk for such discrimination has been highest in fields with few minorities, such as science, technology, engineering and math majors (STEM).

The researchers argue against any assertions that minority students admitted under affirmative action programs are stigmatized, and say the opposite is true. The argue against the idea that such minorities would do better academically at less elite schools. They say students who initially have low test scores may be motivated by the challenge of attending an elite university.

“The claim that minority students suffer academic harms when their admissions credentials do not “match” their institutions finds limited support in the scientific literature,” the statement says. “Research on undergraduates as well as on professional schools shows that minority students attain higher grades and have higher graduation rates when attending more selective institutions.”

The researchers argue that polices such as considering low income status rather than race and targeted recruitment of minorities are not as effective as affirmative action.

The signers of the statement include professors from Stanford University, University of Illinois, Vanderbilt University, University of Houston, and the University of Michigan.

While the statement strongly pushes affirmative action as a solution, other higher education institutions are pursuing other avenues of increasing diversity. Some universities believe that reaching out to minority students in middle and high school could increase diversity. A recent article in The New York Times described how the University of California-Irving spends more than $7 million annually on outreach. California schools have turned to such strategies since affirmative action was banned there.
“California’s public universities, and some of their counterparts around the country, have embedded themselves deeply in disadvantaged communities, working with schools, students and parents to identify promising teenagers and get more of them into college,” the article says. “It is not enough, university administrators say, to change the way they select students; they must also change the students themselves, and begin to do so long before the time arrives to fill out applications.”

Related Links:

– “The Research Basis for Affirmative Action: a Statement by Leading Researchers,” The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles.

– “Justice Step Up Scrutiny of Race in College Entry,” The New York Times. 

– Fisher v. University of Texas Supreme Court decision text.

– “In California, Push for Diversity Starts Earlier,” The New York Times.

– The Civil Rights Project

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Universities Take Early Intervention Approach

Conversations about closing the achievement gap for Hispanic students often center around reaching children as early as possible — in preschool, or even as toddlers.

More universities are embracing a similar mindset. They are seeking to reach students before they’ve even thought of applying to college. That means working with students and parents in high school, or even middle school.

An article in The New York Times proposes that these outreach efforts may be able to accomplish diverse universities in ways that traditional affirmative action policies cannot.

The story points to California as a case study, since it has a ban on affirmative action admissions.

“It is not enough, university administrators say, to change the way they select students; they must also change the students themselves, and begin to do so long before the time arrives to fill out applications,” says the article.

The story highlights 18-year-old Erick Ramirez, who attends Anaheim High School and was just accepted to San Francisco State University. He was able to do that through the help of representatives from the University of California, Irvine, working with him over a three-year period after school and on weekends. They focused on topics such as classwork, test prep and applying for financial aid.

According to the article, UC-Irvine spends more than $7 million a year on out reach. That includes working with low-income students. Part-time employees and college students often work with schools.

UC Irvine graduate and current employee Cristina Flores helps students attending Century High School in Santa Ana with tasks including filing out college applications. She worked with Jasmin Rodriguez, 17, who plans to attend UCLA next year.

“Without their guidance, I would have been so lost,” Jasmin told the Times. “There’s so many little things you don’t know unless someone tells you.”

Related Links:

– “In California, Diversity in College Starts Earlier,” The New York Times.

Supreme Court to Consider Affirmative Action in College Admissions

The U.S. Supreme Court will take up a case involving the use of race in admissions decisions at the University of Texas. Affirmative action has long been a hot-button issue.

UT currently admits the top 10 percent of high school graduates. However, the state uses race and ethnicity as a factor when considering whether to admit students who are not in the top 10 percent. In 2010, among undergraduates accepted 49 percent were white, 22.5 percent Latino, 5 percent black with Asian students accounting for most of the remainder.

The Houston Chronicle reports that Louisiana State University senior Abigail Noel Fisher, who is white, sued after she was rejected by UT, who graduated in the top 12 percent of her high school class with a 3.59 GPA. “I hope the court will decide that all future UT applicants will be allowed to compete for admission without their race or ethnicity being a factor,” Fisher said in a statement released by the Project on Fair Representation.

 A representative of the American Council on Education spoke in defense of using race as an admissions factor. “We hope we will be able to continue to apply the institutional mission that includes diversity as one of the features that a school values,” Ada Meloy of the council told the Chronicle.
The newspaper points out that the university has actually increased minority enrollment since it began using the top 10% rule, which doesn’t weigh race.